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Authors: Ditter Kellen

Tags: #Mystery & Suspense

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BOOK: Ember Burns (The Seeker)
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Ember hurried through her shower and dressed in record time. A short tan skirt, white sleeveless top, and brown flats made up her ensemble.
No heels for me today.

She couldn’t stop thinking of Angel. It stung a little that he’d left without saying good-bye, but she figured he probably had a job.
If I don’t get it in gear, I’m going to be late
. She grabbed her bags and left the house.

* * * *

Ember was relieved she’d made it to work on time. The black sports car parked next to her reserved spot surprised her. She’d assumed Laura would take the day off after her mom’s fall.

Her friend seemed preoccupied with something and didn’t look up when she pulled in next to her and shut off the engine. She gathered all her things before locking the door and approaching the other woman’s car.

She shouldered her purse and tapped on the glass.

The blonde jumped and lowered the window. “Damn it. You scared the crap out of me.”

“Sorry. What has you so edgy? And why are you sitting outside?”

“Balancing my checkbook and opening mail.” Laura seemed nervous as she put everything away in a hurry. “We better go, or we’re going to be late.”

Ember backed up while her friend climbed out and locked the car. The two of them headed toward the employee entrance. Laura seemed distracted, but Ember decided it was probably the situation with her mother.

“How’s your mom doing this morning?”

“What? Oh. She’s sore, but doing fine. Nothing was broken. Dad hired someone to come in a few hours a day to help with housework and cooking until she’s better.”

Ember halted her at the entrance with a touch to Laura’s arm. “Hey, are you okay? You aren’t acting like yourself this morning.”

“I was about to ask you the same thing.”

The door suddenly opened, startling them both. Ember glanced up and met the emotionless gaze of the janitor. He held the door for them and remained silent as they inched by him and strode toward the elevators. Neither spoke until stepping inside and pressing the button for the seventh floor.

Laura broke the silence first. “Okay. Now I see what you mean. He was totally looking at you like a pork chop.”

Ember’s nose wrinkled. “He was not. It was more of a your-very-existence-pisses-me-off kind of look.”

“Well, I’d steer clear of him either way. There’s definitely something about you he finds fascinating. I think I even saw some drool on his chin.”

“You’re the blonde bombshell. If there was drool, he was no doubt wondering if the carpet matched the drapes.”

Laura’s lips twitched. “I don’t color my hair, and neither of us have carpet.”

The doors slid open with a
ding
, and Ember hesitated. “Do you have a minute to walk with me to my office? I need to talk to you.”

She’d thought about the pictures all the way to work. There was no doubt she could trust Laura and her brilliant insight. Hopefully she would know what to do.

Something passed through her friend’s gaze but was gone before Ember could identify it. “Sure.” She motioned for Ember to precede her.

They exited the elevator and trudged down the hall to her new office. She unlocked the door and flipped on the lights, leaving Laura to close the door behind them.

Ember took a seat behind her desk and deposited her bags underneath. She motioned for the editor to take the one across from her.

“What is it? You know how I hate suspense.”

Leave it to Laura to get right to the point
. “Well, I have two things to tell you, so I’ll start with the good news first.” She paused. “I slept with Angel last night.”
Wait for it.

Laura laughed. “Holy shit. Who is Angel, you little hussy?”

Ember grinned. “My new neighbor I told you about on the phone.”

“Oh yes, I remember now. Your love-at-first-sight guy.” Another chuckle sprang free. “Was he any good? Deets please.”

“The best I’ve ever had. Oh my God it was amazing.”

Ember recited the details of her incredible night with Angelo, ending it with “And when I woke this morning, he was gone. No note. Nothing.” It still hurt that he hadn’t bothered to say good-bye or given any indication he’d be back. She hoped she’d see him again soon. Her pulse leaped at the thought.

“Just play it cool, Em. You know how men are. Don’t go falling in love with the guy. You just met him. And what about Clay? I thought you were interested in him?”

“I am, or was. He showed up at my place last night and tried to kiss me.”

“You kissed Clay? Laura’s eyes were huge, and Ember’s humor sparked.

“Yes, I did them both.” She managed to keep a straight face.

“You did not.” The blonde gaped at her.

“Of course I didn’t. I just wanted to see the look on your face.”

They laughed for a moment before Ember sobered. “It really was great. I feel something with Angel I’ve never felt with anyone before, and I hope I didn’t mess that up by sleeping with him so soon. I just couldn’t help it.”

“So, Clay is out of the picture then?”

“I don’t know what to think right now. I may never see Angel again.” The very thought sickened her.

Laura’s gaze softened. “I’m sure that’s not true. He’ll be back, wait and see.” She paused. “What was your other news?”

Ember reached under the desk into her bag and pulled the pictures free. She stared at them for a short time, then passed them to her friend who was watching her with a strange expression.

“What are those?” Laura took the prints offered and gazed at them without moving. Her head lifted after a long moment. “Where did you get these?”

Warning bells went off inside Ember. Laura was too calm. She’d expected her to fly off the handle or have twenty questions spouting out one on top of the other at the very least. The pale-faced woman sitting before her looked as if she already knew the answer.
Does she know something she’s not telling me?
Ember’s stomach tightened with dread.

“They came Friday, and I got them yesterday. I wasn’t going to say anything. I mean for all we know it could be a sick joke. Worst-case scenario, a copycat. I’d even considered Alan—”

“Wait. Alan? Why would you say that?”

Ember took a deep breath. “The promotion. And the complaint filed against me, remember? I’m willing to bet he had something to do with it.”

Laura dropped her gaze and studied the pictures once more. “The thought crossed my mind also.” Her voice slightly wavered.

“What are you not telling me?” Ember knew the editor better than anyone. Something was definitely wrong, aside from the obvious.

When Ember glanced up, her anger was evident. “Here, I’ll show you. I found it on my doorstep this morning. It makes sense now.” She pulled her purse around and tugged a folded piece of paper free, handing it to Ember with fingers that trembled.

Ember slowly unfolded it with dread. She felt the blood drain from her face as the words came into focus.
Let’s play a game. Heads she lives. Tails she dies.

She read it again before lifting her head to lock gazes with her closest friend. “I don’t understand. Who would do this? He’s behind bars. They caught him…”

“It can’t be a copycat. The Watcher never left a note or made a threat. I don’t know who is doing it, but we need to go to the police, Em. I’m afraid of—”

“No. We can’t.” The words came out with more force than she’d intended, but she wasn’t ready to involve law enforcement yet. Her life had been a steady stream of nameless faces tailing her and camping outside her home for an entire year. If it was someone trying to scare her into resigning, she planned to do some investigating of her own without involving the cops.

“I get that you don’t want this to get out, but your life has been threatened, and you need to at least tell the detective what’s going on. He can help.” Laura’s voice cracked. “I couldn’t bear it if something happened to you.”

Ember came around the desk to kneel beside Laura’s chair. She took hold of her hands and ran both thumbs across her knuckles in a soothing motion. “I promise you if I get anything else, I’ll make the call.” She gave a gentle squeeze. “Please?”

Laura held her gaze for a long moment. “Okay. But if something else happens, I’m calling the detective.”

Ember blew out a breath and stood. “Thank you.” She hesitated. “Can you call in a favor with your dad?”

“You know he’s going to ask questions.” Laura ran a hand through her hair. “I’ll talk to him tonight. But I’m serious, Em. One more thing, and I involve Detective Harper. I don’t like this at all.” She stood to go. “I have a meeting in five minutes. Call my cell if you need me.”

Ember wrapped her friend in a hug. “I love you. Thank you again.”

“Love you too. Please be careful.”

Her stomach tightened the second Laura left her office.

Left alone with her thoughts, Ember took a seat once again and studied the note. Even if Laura’s dad agreed to run a trace on the sly, the chances of finding a fingerprint on the pictures or paper were slim to none. Being a retired sheriff worked in his favor, and it was no secret he still had quite a bit of pull at the station. Keeping him from taking it to Clay would be another matter altogether.

The hairs on Ember’s neck rose. She tucked the evidence inside her purse and slowly stood. Something was off. Her gaze swept the room and landed on the slightly open bathroom door. The light was off, and she couldn’t make out anything but a shadowed outline of the sink.

Ember forced her foot to take a hesitant step.
It’s all in my mind. There is no one there
. She took a shaky breath and inched closer. Her heart rate spiked with rounds of adrenaline. With every step she took, fear snaked through her body. Her hand lifted to hover over the knob. She flexed her fingers and cautiously wrapped them around the cool silver ball.

“Hey, are you in here?” someone shouted from the doorway.

Ember nearly jumped out of her skin. She spun around. Her hand went to her throat. Linda Ratcliff, Kalli’s secretary, stood just inside the room, holding a pile of papers that had seen better days.

“You scared the shit out of me.” Ember’s heart was pounding so hard it was almost painful.

“I’m sorry. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Just a little jumpy.”
I’m imagining things like trolls in my toilet
. “What can I do for you?”

“I need your help. The copy machine is spitting out crap left and right. Kalli said you were the expert with it.” Linda threw the door open. “We have to hurry.”

Ember took one last look at the bathroom before exhaling a shaky breath. “It happens all the time. They were supposed to replace it a month ago. Let’s go.” Ember darted passed the secretary and practically ran to the copy room.

Chapter Five

“I hope this wasn’t important.” Ember dislodged a wrinkled and torn piece of paper from the copy machine and held it up for Linda’s inspection.

The other woman groaned and accepted the ruined offering. “It was, but thankfully I saved it on my computer before printing. I’ll speak to Kalli about this and have it replaced as soon as possible. There’s no excuse for faulty equipment.” She mumbled a thanks and cleaned up the papers littering the floor, then left the room.

Ember checked to make sure nothing was left jammed inside the machine before trudging back to her office. She hesitated outside.
I don’t recall Linda closing this door
. She glanced around but didn’t see anyone else in the hall. Ember took a deep breath, turned the knob, and cautiously stepped inside. The first thing she noticed was the bathroom door standing open. Her stomach tightened with dread and more than a little fear.

She picked up a paperweight from the desk, held it in front of her, and crept toward the entrance. Her breath hitched as she raised the weapon high and reached inside to turn on the light. The exhaust fan came on with a roar, and Ember jerked back as if burned. “Son of a bitch.” She flipped the correct switch, and bright light flooded the room. Empty.
This is ridiculous.

Still holding the paperweight in front of her, she lowered it and stumbled to the desk on wobbly legs to replace her weapon of choice.

An incoming text buzzed from her purse. She fished out the cell and slid a thumb across the screen to see it was from Laura.
Meeting is over. Why don’t you go home and get some rest. Leave the items with me and I’ll make a call. Love you.

That’s the best news I’ve had all morning
. She snatched up her bags, replaced the phone, and locked up on her way out.

The walk to Laura’s office gave her time to calm down and think. Someone had definitely been in the bathroom. Her mind spun with different scenarios, and Alan was at the top of the list. She knew he was pissed that she’d gotten the promotion over him and snubbed his attempts at a second date.
Then there’s the janitor with his vacant eyes and creepy disposition
. A shudder passed through her.

Ember tapped lightly on Laura’s open door.

The editor glanced up and smiled. “Come in. I’m almost done.”

“Sure. Take your time.” She took a seat in front of the massive desk and set her bags on the floor.

Laura finished what she worked on and rubbed her eyes. “Are you okay?”

“Not really. Someone was in my office.” The memory of it twisted Ember’s stomach into knots.

“What are you talking about? When?” Some of the color left the blonde’s pretty face.

Ember quickly filled her in. “And I’m sure the bathroom door was almost completely closed before Linda came in.”

“Alan?” Laura asked in a hushed tone.

“I don’t know. I didn’t notice his car in the parking lot when we came in. And besides, what would he be doing in my office?”

They both jumped when the stairwell door creaked open. Ember put a finger to her lips in a signal to stay quiet as they got up and moved silently to take a look. She whispered. “It’s probably Lurch.”

Laura didn’t even flinch at the nickname Ember had given the janitor.

The elevator gave a loud
ding
, and she grabbed the editor’s hand. The mail guy disappeared inside. With the pictures reappearing and Stanley coming from the stairwell two hours before he was due to clock in, Ember was curious to see where he went.

BOOK: Ember Burns (The Seeker)
13.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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